On Thursday, January 26, Archbishop Broglio emailed a pastoral letter to Catholic military chaplains with instructions that it be read from the pulpit at Sunday Masses the following weekend in all military chapels. The letter calls on Catholics to resist the policy initiative, recently affirmed by the United States Department of Health and Human Services, for federally mandated health insurance covering sterilization, abortifacients and contraception, because it represents a violation of the freedom of religion recognized by the U.S. Constitution.
The Army’s Office of the Chief of Chaplains subsequently sent an email to senior chaplains advising them that the Archbishop’s letter was not coordinated with that office and asked that it not be read from the pulpit. The Chief’s office directed that the letter was to be mentioned in the Mass announcements and distributed in printed form in the back of the chapel.
Archbishop Broglio and the Archdiocese stand firm in the belief, based on legal precedent, that such a directive from the Army constituted a violation of his Constitutionally-protected right of free speech and the free exercise of religion, as well as those same rights of all military chaplains and their congregants.
Following a discussion between Archbishop Broglio and the Secretary of the Army, The Honorable John McHugh, it was agreed that it was a mistake to stop the reading of the Archbishop’s letter. Additionally, the line: “We cannot — we will not — comply with this unjust law” was removed by Archbishop Broglio at the suggestion of Secretary McHugh over the concern that it could potentially be misunderstood as a call to civil disobedience.
The AMS did not receive any objections to the reading of Archbishop Broglio’s statement from the other branches of service.
First off what should be noted its that this letter from the Archbishop seems to be exactly the same as the form letter sent out by the USCCB and subsequently forwarded by the large majority of American bishops. So what the Office of the Chief of Chaplains objected to was pretty much the same letter read out to most Catholics this week.
Now as to the objection to “We cannot — we will not — comply with this unjust law” being read in a military setting I don’t clearly see the point to the objection. Being a retired Navy Chief I am well aware of military problems concerning the political sphere as it interacts with soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines. One of the things you learn in the military is that you must obey every lawful order and there has always been an emphasis on lawful in military context. This lines up perfectly with St. Augustines “An unjust law does not seem to be a law at all and what St. Thomas Aquinas also wrote on the subject. The HHS regulation is an unjust regulation in response to what is the unjust law of the Obamacare mandate. I see no dichotomy with the military not complying with an unjust law and fulfilling their oath.
Though the military is in a different situation when it comes to healthcare and unfortunately it is the case that all Americans are already paying for contraceptives used by military personnel along with sterilization. The military is quite a contraceptive culture in many ways especially considering the number of women also serving. It is expected that they contracept while on sea duty or deployed and there is quite a negative feeling towards women who become pregnant and must leave their current duty assignment. Plus of course the use of condoms has been pretty much an unofficial policy in that I heard it recommended constantly across the chain of command even before the days of so-called “safe-sex.” When I was an atheist serving in the military I felt this way myself and pretty much wished they would inject women with Depo-Provera on starting their sea duty tour. The contraceptive attitude is evil in itself as I well know. This attitude of mine developed since I served on the first carrier to deploy women and saw the many-fold disasters as a result. But this is not a rant on the subject deployed women in the military. Though I really think that women serving in the military in such capacity is founded pretty much on having access to contraception.
How this unjust regulation personally affects the military is in their private political sphere where just as any citizen they have the right to address their representatives, vote, and participate privately in the political process. So they have a right to hear an uncensored letter read to the majority of Catholics in the United States. The Secretary of the Army and other personnel involved had no right to question or have changed anything in this statement and their oath to defend the Constitution makes what they did even worse.
Kathryn Jean Lopez has been writing on the subject and keeping track of updates.